Healing with Animal Therapy

When you think of addiction recovery treatments and therapy options, odds are images of traditional methods come to mind: a therapist’s office, a group therapy session, maybe a scene involving someone suffering from the symptoms of withdrawal (thankfully now we have medications which make this process much easier and less painful).

While it’s true that those are conventional approaches to rehabilitation, it doesn’t have to be as dreary and bland as we sometimes imagine it to be!

For instance, at Harbor Village our clients are privy to quite a few awesome perks: weekly outings, access to spa and salon access, full gym access, and more. We use a mixture of those traditional options and holistic practices such as yoga, acupuncture, and meditation. Then there’s the therapeutic alternatives we often don’t consider: music therapy, art therapy, and even animal therapy.

Wait, what? You can cuddle up with adorable animals while overcoming substance abuse? Yes!!!

Animal therapy is great for people with physical or mental challenges, but it has also proven quite effective for the rehabilitation of other populations such as people with emotional difficulties and behavioral issues. Programs which pair unadopted dogs with incarcerated people help to rehabilitate both parties; horses have proven especially sensitive and therapeutic to troubled youths and with physical rehabilitation.

During recovery from substance abuse, animal therapy is employed as a means of promoting calm and openness. Visiting zoos or participating in horseback riding helps to reduce stress and turn attention outward rather than inward. This helps the recovery process by allowing people to recognize the needs of others and reinforcing the desirable consequences of positive interactions.

Paws for People, a non-profit organization promoting animal therapy since 2005, notes that some of the benefits include:

  • lowering blood pressure and improving cardiovascular health
  • naturally promoting relaxation
  • boosting spirits and reducing depression
  • encouraging communication and socialization
  • reducing boredom or feelings of loneliness
  • providing motivation

By facilitating this kind of outward consideration, animal therapy helps to mend the way some people have come to view the world as hateful or cold. Animal therapy repairs tattered or broken bonds with the outside world; progress which can then be applied to people and interpersonal relationships.

Of course, animal therapy isn’t limited to the populations of those I described earlier, either. Any and everyone can benefit from having an animal companion or visiting a shelter, ranch, or zoo. Bonding with animals, even if only for a few hours, helps us reconnect with humanity and the importance of our place in the global ecosystem.

Understanding this helps promote a more altruistic view and a better way of life- the ultimate goal of addiction recovery. In fact, owning a pet during the recovery process can be beneficial in that you gain a constant companion and you must consider their needs, which helps to lessen cravings and overcome urges. Even if you can’t own a pet, being around animals when you feel yourself falling into a low point of your sober journey can make it easier to stay on the right path.


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